Thursday, 25 April 2013

The 7.32am to Marylebone


It was, for me at least, an early start this morning.  As I pulled back the bedroom curtains mist was swirling around the garden as the sun tried to burn through.  I was up early because Amersham Free Church was ‘hosting’ the monthly Bucks Baptist Ministers’ Breakfast.  I left the Manse at 7.20am to walk to church and meet up with folk who had got up even earlier to help prepare the food.

My route into town normally takes me over the red footbridge at the station.  By the time I got there it was about 7.30am and I was surprised to see the platform crowded with commuters ready to start their daily journey ‘up to town’.  The car park was frantic as people were being dropped off.  ‘A different world’ from mine I thought.  This is a side of life here in Amersham I rarely see and never take part in.  If I go up to London I always catch a train after 9.15am because it’s cheaper!  Not so these folk – everyday up, out and catching the 7.32am. 

The other evening walking home from an Elders’ Meeting lots of people were, this time, coming out of the station clutching their brief cases and bags looking totally exhausted.  It was 10.30pm – what a time to be returning home from the office.

For many who are now retired at AFC this was a daily way of life and for a smaller group it remains so.

It’s never easy ‘to walk in someone else’s moccasins’!  My world is very different from a city commuter’s, a doctor’s or a shop assistant’s.  The challenge for me is that all sorts of people with all sorts of Monday to Friday professions come to church to listen to my sermons on Sundays!  It makes me wonder if we have got the balance quite right and how we might ‘hear’ more from those in the world of work during a service; because it’s important to make that connection.

That’s the reason I was impressed by a colleague's Sabbatical arrangements recently.  We ministers often use this leave of absence to go on theological conferences or spiritual retreats – which is fine.  Yet my friend shunned all of that and spent his three months away from his church routine working as a voluntary porter at the local hospital.  He simply wanted to become re-acquainted with the world of work because he believed it would enhance his ministry.

Perhaps our time together on a Sunday is a bit like that central, overlapping point of a Venn diagram.  We have other spheres we inhabit: be they at work or out in our communities.  Yet we share this moment of weekly worship together – bringing our whole selves to it praying that something about the fellowship, liturgy and sermon will touch a chord with us and resonate, giving us some of the strength we need to get back on the 7.32 to Marylebone on Monday morning!

With best wishes,

 
Ian

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Celebrating Life


The other Saturday I spent the morning at The Chiltern Child Contact Centre.  It was good to be there and see how this organisation supports estranged families through the provision of a safe and comfortable place in which children can meet up with a parent who doesn’t currently live at home anymore.  It was truly moving to see this interaction and witness the quiet and gentle practical support being offered by that morning’s helpers.  I came away with a real sense that something positive and life-giving was being experienced even though the overall context was that of significant struggle and pain. 

I suspect we could think of numerous other examples of such human support and encouragement given either by individuals or collectively through clubs and societies.   Wherever these sorts of opportunities occur I believe something of the breath of God, the breath of Life is being experienced in our world.

The opposite is equally true and so we lament the life draining tragedies of the Syrian refugee crisis or the recent Boston bombings.

All of this has come into focus for me this week as I prepare to preach on the lectionary passage on Sunday about the raising of Tabitha by Peter in Acts 9.  In many ways it asks difficult questions about ‘resurrection in real time’ – but looked at in another way the message of the passage couldn’t be clearer:  God’s gift to us is a participation in His Life – a life of joy, of peace and love.  Tabitha shared in that way of living before her death because we are told she ‘spent her days in acts of kindness and charity’ – what a lovely epitaph. 

In this Easter Season – which now even feels like the season of spring – I think it’s important for us to re-affirm that the God at the centre of our worship is the God who offers us life – life in all its fullness.

With best wishes,

Ian

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Leadership

As we were packing on Monday before travelling down to Somerset the news came through that Lady Thatcher had died at The Ritz hotel in London.  I ran downstairs and turned on the telly catching the opening of the one o’clock news and the start of the many tributes and critiques which we have heard and seen this week.

The reaction to her death has been interesting to say the least.  She was the Prime Minister of my early adult years. Indeed the election at which she became Prime Minister in 1979 was the first one in which I could vote.  My family owned its own business and we lived in the south of Britain so Mrs T was something of a hero to my parents and grandparents and the 80’s for us seemed like a ‘boom’ time. 

There are so many ‘myths’ about Baroness Thatcher and it’s hard to know which ones to believe.  Ken Clark, who served along side her, said in a TV interview this week that she was very different from the media image presented about her.  Perhaps we need to refrain from too quick an analysis and take the ‘long view’.

Whatever we think of Mrs Thatcher she has her place in twentieth century history as one of its most significant leaders. 

Leadership can be defined in many different ways and needs many different qualities.  A leader needs vision and courage, has to have insight and the ability to ‘stay the course’ even in the loneliest of moments.  I guess the Baroness knew a thing or two about this kind of leadership.

Yet, in my view, leadership also involves the ability to listen and the willingness to learn from one’s mistakes.  Now that’s the hard bit for any leader.  John Humphreys or Jeremy Paxman would eat any political leader alive if they admitted too often that mistakes have been made.  Yet we all make them and one of the best bits of our humanity is that often mistakes, once we learn from them, make us into far better people.  That’s the theme of the tome the AFC Book Group is currently reading (Falling Upwards by Father Richard Rohr).

An American preacher on New York’s 5th Avenue was going through domestic difficulty at home and would regularly give updates of this marital struggle to his church Sunday by Sunday.  During that period the congregation swelled to unprecedented proportions.  Apparently they loved hearing about their minister’s mistakes!

Now I’m not for one moment saying that example gives us a good role model. A far better one might be the humility with which Justin Welby took up his position in Canterbury Cathedral last month.  Standing at the great West Door and being asked ‘Who are you?’ he responded by saying he was a disciple in need of God’s grace.  Later in March he was interviewed on Songs of Praise and said ‘of course I will make many mistakes, I just hope and pray they won’t be on the really big issues’. 

The Bible doesn’t really go in for hagiography – the art of writing an uncritical biography in a near reverential tone.  Even Israel’s greatest leader and King, David, is given an honest account as his mistakes are all too painfully recorded during his days of adultery.

No leader is ever perfect – nor should we expect them to be.

For me ‘collegiate leadership’ is a great blessing and strength.  Parliament models it in the Cabinet system of government and the rigorous passage of a Bill through its various stages in both Commons and Lords.  Such a system is the benefit of living in a democracy rather than a dictatorship.

And we, especially in Free Churches like AFC, also have this kind of leadership structure.  The minister SERVES alongside the Elders and Church Meeting as TOGETHER we seek the mind of Christ.  One of my tasks is to seek to bring vision and encouragement but that is always done in the realisation that any ideas I have will be refined and developed as they go through Elders and Church Meeting; and I’m truly grateful for that.

Our country owes a debt of gratitude to all its Prime Ministers and the service they have given our nation.  We know they have all made mistakes yet I sense every one of them gave of their very best in the democratic system we value.  Their office of national leadership merits our ongoing prayers.

With best wishes,

Ian



Thursday, 4 April 2013

'How was the water?'


That’s the question a lot of folk asked me after last Sunday’s baptism – ‘How was the water?’  Well it was fine – rather like the church at Laodicea (Rev 3.14) ‘neither hot nor cold’ -which made it just right!

Every baptismal service I’ve had the privilege of being involved with has been special and Sunday’s was no exception.  Jamie had started his preparation for baptism with Andrew, my predecessor, so it felt great that such firm foundations were now being built upon.  It was my ‘first’ baptism at AFC – so that felt ‘special’ too – and having it on Easter Day was a real joy.

However, there were other moments of delight in last weekend’s busy Easter schedule. 

On Maundy Thursday after the communion at St John’s Methodist I was shown around the church by one of their members.  She just took it upon herself to give me not only a ‘guided tour’ but a warm welcome which I really appreciated.

Many folk from AFC have commented how much they appreciated the service Erna devised for us on Good Friday.  Her opening reflection on the two bowls – one used by Pilate for washing his hands, the other by Jesus for washing the disciples’ feet was profoundly moving as we considered what bowl we might be using.  And then there was that bitterly cold – but genuinely warm-hearted – walk of witness with other Christians form the town.  What a long procession!  It all ended with a short and wonderfully audible service at St Michael’s Square.  Ecumenism seems real on Good Friday – together we gather around the cross – what better place for Christians to find their commonality.

On Easter Saturday a small, enthusiastic group of children, parents and helpers gathered at AFC for a craft morning and Service of Light in the Sanctuary.  We lit the cross ‘lights’ they had made as we stood around the Communion Table and shared a prayer together – sometimes the simplest things are the most moving.

And then Easter Day – a full church with loads of visitors, wonderful singing, sharing baptism and communion together – wonderful!

All of this proclaims life and community – the themes of Easter and our everyday identity - can’t wait to do it all over again next year!

Best wishes,

 
Ian


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